The first time I sampled Mexican street food was in 1989 in, would you believe, a Mexican street.
It was from a van on an unmade road in Tijuana and did not inspire much faith in its hygiene regime. I need not have worried though as the inside of the vehicle was spotless. I came away with a beef and cheese burrito roughly the size of a rolled up lounge carpet. Sadly some of it ended up in a bin out of sight of the van as there was just too much. I think that it cost me about 20p and was the best value nosh I have ever had. It was also delicious – and hot!
I had no such qualms when entering Cielo Blanco a restaurant in the family which owns Pintura and is also situated in the Trinity Centre. Unlike most of the other independents in the complex, it is not in Trinity Kitchen but amongst the large chain eateries on the First Floor. I was greeted by the waiter who asked me in which part of the restaurant I should like to be seated and guided me to a vacant table. He then pointed out the items on the menu which were not available and left me to peruse the rest of the list. I find it reassuring sometimes to find that some items are ‘off’ as it shows that the place is run by humans who sometimes make mistakes and also that they do not carry loads of spare stock which is going to deteriorate in freshness. I decided to take advantage of the Street Food Experience which comprises two items from the Street Food menu and one Side for £10. It is served Monday to Friday between noon and 6.00pm. Their Signature Tacos are not included with the offer but everything else is fair game.
From the Street Food section I chose the Sticky Beef Tostada which is a crisp corn tortilla topped with ‘overnight marinated smoky ox cheek, burnt onion puree and crispy shallots’. My second choice was Al Pastor Pork Quesadilla, a hot wrap containing ‘rare-breed pork, refried beans and Oaxaca cheese’. As a side I opted for a Black Bean Salad. To accompany the feast I picked a Dos Equis beer at £4.80. The beer was delivered just as it would have been in its country of origin, with the glass having been kept in the fridge with the bottle, thus giving it a frosty look – and touch! As I was decanting my beer into its tankard, the waiter returned to tell me that the chef had told him that they had run out of Black Beans for the salad but offered an alternative containing peas and green beans. It sounded delicious but I declined as it would not normally be available and this is a review, so I wanted something on the menu. I substituted the Wedge Salad, which was avocado crema, spring onion, radish and pomegranate. I was intrigued to find out where the ‘wedge’ part fitted in. Was he going to slip into an alternative form of footwear to deliver it to the table I wondered.
Once again I was reassured in the quality of the food by the lack of black beans. One of the multiples would have probably nipped out to Tesco round the corner for a can but the dearth suggested that they are prepared from dried ingredients and soaked. When the food arrived it was spectacular, not quite as plentiful as my Tijuana Axminster but quite enough for lunch. The waiter’s shoes had not morphed into something that Abba would have worn on stage as the ‘wedge’ referred to the chunk of iceberg lettuce over which the other ingredients were scattered. It tasted as good as it looked, the avocado crema acting as a flavoured mayo, rich and, as its name suggests, very creamy. The pomegranate, spring onions and radish added a freshness to counteract. The Tostada came laden with unctuous meat and fried shallots. It was delicious and piquant without being hot.
The Quesadilla, on the other hand, looked innocent enough but the two slices of red chilli on the top gave a hint as to what was inside. The pork was again very tasty and the first mouthful was mild but after a couple more the heat kicked in and, whilst not of the eye-watering, nose-running strength, was pretty potent. This is how you think of Mexican food and since eating this meal I have thought of little else.
I was in two minds as to whether to have dessert but to be truthful I didn’t want to leave without sampling everything on offer, so purely in the interest of research I decided to sample a Dulce De Leche Sundae at £4.50 with a black Americano coffee for £2.95. When it arrived I wished that the chef had run out of ice cream as it was pretty large. It comprised vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and popcorn. It sounds innocent but was very filling. It was also so good that it didn’t suffer the same fate as my Mexican Burrito and end up in the bin as I was not going to waste a mouthful.
In conclusion, I would happily recommend Cielo Blanco to anyone as the food and service were excellent. I know that there were a couple of non-runners on the menu but the problem was resolved in a more than satisfactory manner. I have written this before and will do so again. Any restaurant can look good when everything goes well; it is how they handle the hiccoughs that separates the good from the bad and this definitely falls into the former category.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.